In running (and in general),
The mechanics of the human body are complex -
Motion, timing, angles, rate of change, range, alignment, where that force is generated, in three dimensions.
The mechanics become more complex when you factor in the mechanics of ventilation and respiration for fueling.
Running power is produced by the relationship between the extremities and trunk. I can not harness the power of gravity without my legs (and arms). Nor can i transform that power to forward motion without my trunk (and arms).
If the legs are cooperating - hips taking the lead, with contributions at the knee, modifications/refinement at the foot/ankle (balanced and complimented by arm swing),
If the trunk is also cooperating - unlocked spine/appropriate Thoracic kyphosis, Lumbar lordosis, neutral rib-pelvis relationship, coil/recoil of trunk to transfer power from legs to forward motion, and appropriate ventilation and respiration (balanced and complimented by arm swing),
We have an established range of efficient running (assuming a non-novice runner).
At the appropriate pace range, we have efficiency - meaning
The correct muscles are doing the correct job, in both isolation and coordination.
(quick example: the hip external rotators are acting as the primary rotation controllers counteracting the internal rotation moment during stance. The soleus is assisting.)
Abdominal muscles (and the like) are maintaining pelvis, spine, and rib position/alignment
creating/controlling the power of the trunk rotation/twist/untwist,
Serving as an anchor of the ribs (and spine) from which the diaphragm (and friends) can produce efficient ventilation.
At the appropriate pace range, relative homeostasis amongst limbs, trunk, AND BREATHING exists (also assuming a range of efficiency with the skill/technical aspect or running).
When the skill of movement is found within the range/capacity of the runner
When the skill of ventilation is found within the range/capacity of the runner
When the physiological demand (respiration) is found within the range/capacity of the runner -
All in a synchronous range -
We have relative smooth, efficient running.
A range optimal for each individual.
As do people.
Age, health, etc.
Likened to a band
Each musician is coordinated within themselves/their instrument -
Rhythm guitar holding down their part
Bass is doing their thing well
Drums creating a beat and allowing space for the others
Lead guitar on point,
and vocals on pitch -
Individually on point
Timed well with each other, in relation to each other
If the pace slows out of that range of efficient running,
And for some runners, the form becomes a bit more clunky, and can throw off the timing and muscle performance,
And can result in aches, and pains and sometimes injury.
When the pace starts to exceed the range of efficient running,
Coordination and job performance suffers.
Legs will lose coordination and muscle job specification -
If the hips can not control the rate of range change, the force in stance or swing,
Muscle at the knee or foot/ankle (who are already working harder to do their jobs) will increase their output to assist the hip during stance or swing).
The trunk loses ability to stabilize and subsequently transfer power of legs from stance and swing,
Losing trunk range and thusly transfer of power to forward motion - increases demand on leg output of power for forward motion.
Trunk loses range and posture, also altering its ventilation efficiency.
Muscle of ventilation assist in trunk stability
Which decreases ability to ventilate and respirate.
Further decreases trunk range for power transfer from legs and hold stable base for legs.
Ventilation mechanics are compromised.
The ability to respirate,
Supply O2 for appropriate energy production suffers.
But almost more important is
The ability to rid the body of CO2
Creates a backup in the lungs, blood, muscle and other tissues,
alters pH, O2 supply, other body systems,
Further impacts the body’s ability to perform.
Energy production shifts from efficient (aerobic) to less efficient (anaerobic) with more metabolic waste.
Intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressures are altered, also reducing posture, core stability, transference of power.
Muscle fatigues sooner,
Produce less power,
Increase joint compression/shear forces.
Decrease joint range,
Running form suffers,
Opening the door to cramps, aches, pains, injuries -
I understand that there is a pile more going on than what has just been briefly introduced. Those happenings, while important and worth waxing about, have been omitted to allow space for another vein of discussion that immediately follows.
And yes, this all assumes some level of non-novice running; meaning - There is awareness and a level of competency (not suggestive of mastery) with running form/mechanics.
I believe that if the trunk can hold stable, and respirate, the body can run forever or as long as it can hold a trunk stable while ventilating.
Focus on ventilation (breathing) mechanics - to run in such a manner to maximize, maintain and protect all that feeds ventilation (posture, mobility, muscle efficiency) - is cornerstone to build expansive running and training theory. Or at least until I find another way to see it.
Increasing the demand on the running mechanics with pace (terrain), at some point will decrease efficiency of ventilation, because running mechanics will then steal some muscle function/tension to keep trunk stable to produce running.
That is if we continue to place our emphasis on running pace/speed. If speed is our driver, then we may compromise ventilation and respiration for the goal of speed.
If we refocus on sustaining muscle and structural efficiency for ventilation, then our driver is sustaining the breath, the life energy and working within that gift to expand our speed.
Rumination of this concept kicked up whilst training for ultra distances.
When I could feel something start to tax,
I would slow down pace and in order to get my breathing in order,
Reestablish “baseline” if you will -
(Yes, I also had to factor in nutrition and fluids, but that all is omitted for length)
to recover while running.
I would also reassess my mechanics and get the band back together - everyone back on beat -
Playing in the pocket.
In reestablishing baseline,
I would get breathing under control,
Mechanics tightened up,
Check in on the mental strength,
Race strategy, etc.
Once back to a relative ‘baseline’ (or about the closest I could get),
I would modify pace within that ventilation efficiency range
Depending on terrain, race course, race strategy, etc.
With this concept, I am not proposing that it is a sole stance to take on with training,
But rather a central concept to navigate through whatever training program you currently enjoy and beyond.
In some programs that provide a range of pace or distance for a particular training run, the ventilatory concept above may help narrow in on how to participate with the run.
This is simply another invitation to the craft within the training process.
With how foundational breath is within running, athletics -
There is no wonder why so many eastern and western philosophies emphasize harnessing the power and freedom of each breath within their practices.
As you reconnect to the nature of your breath and better understand the battle created between your breath and speed/accomplishment, you may also uncover more of your spirit with which you run.
In many languages, spirit and breath are the same word.
If I can understand the surrounding of my spirit,
The interwoven connectedness of it all within me,
Not only can I protect it,
But as my life giving energy,
I can harness that essence
And draw from that which has been in and with me the whole time.
By Dr Adam Fujita PT, DPT
8 Years of clinical experience in the physical therapy environment.